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Rev Med Virol. 2011 May;21(3):154-80. doi: 10.1002/rmv.690.

How to control an infectious bead string: nucleosome-based regulation and targeting of herpesvirus chromatin.

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Institute for Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, University of Regensburg, Germany.


Herpesvirus infections of humans can cause a broad variety of symptoms ranging from mild afflictions to life-threatening disease. During infection, the large double-stranded DNA genomes of all herpesviruses are transcribed, replicated and encapsidated in the host cell nucleus, where DNA is typically structured and manoeuvred through nucleosomes. Nucleosomes individually assemble DNA around core histone octamers to form 'beads-on-a-string' chromatin fibres. Herpesviruses have responded to the advantages and challenges of chromatin formation in biologically unique ways. Although herpesvirus DNA is devoid of histones within nucleocapsids, nuclear viral genomes most likely form irregularly arranged or unstable nucleosomes during productive infection, and regular nucleosomal arrays resembling host cell chromatin in latently infected cells. Besides variations in nucleosome density, herpesvirus chromatin 'bead strings' undergo dynamic changes in histone composition and modification during the different stages of productive replication, latent infection and reactivation from latency, raising the likely possibility that epigenetic processes may dictate, at least in part, the outcome of infection and ensuing pathogenesis. Here, we summarise and discuss several new and important aspects regarding the nucleosome-based mechanisms that regulate herpesvirus chromatin structure and function in infected cells. Special emphasis is given to processes of histone deposition, histone variant exchange and covalent histone modification in relation to the transcription from the viral genome during productive and latent infections by human cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus type 1. We also present an overview on emerging histone-directed antiviral strategies that may be developed into 'epigenetic therapies' to improve current prevention and treatment options targeting herpesvirus infection and disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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